Why DraftKings bet on brand partnerships to build buzz beyond the big game

Why DraftKings bet on brand partnerships to build buzz beyond the big game

The Super Bowl remains the biggest betting moment of the year, with nearly 68 million American adults estimated to have bet more than $23 billion on last night's contest, per an American Gaming Association survey. And as legal sports betting has expanded to 38 states and Washington, D.C., about $1.5 billion of that total was bet with legal outlets.

For DraftKings, the NFL season and the Super Bowl is the busiest time of the year as the company competes for market share with FanDuel, BetMGM and others. The gambling industry spent nearly $1 billion in 2023 on national media, but DraftKings' advertising through digital, print and TV media decreased by 27% year-over-year, per data shared with Marketing Dive by ad intelligence platform MediaRadar.

Rather than hitting the gas on media, DraftKings this year has separated itself from the pack with a handful of brand partnerships that looked to put the company top-of-mind during the run up to the big game, including a "Tums Prop Bites" effort with the antacid brand, a field goal-focused contest with DiGiorno and a Groundhog Day pool with brewer Samuel Adams.

Marketing Dive caught up with Stephanie Sherman, the CMO of DraftKings for nearly 11 years, over email about how the company approached these partnerships, what it learned from advertising in the Super Bowl last year and how it's approaching marketing as sports betting continues to grow.

MARKETING DIVE: Can you explain how DraftKings is approaching partnerships as a brand-building tool?

STEPHANIE SHERMAN: We like to create opportunities that fuels the fan and drives engagement in a creative way while amplifying our brand’s message. 

When we went live with our online sportsbook in Massachusetts last year, we teamed up with fellow Boston-based company, Dunkin’ Donuts, to launch a campaign “Born in Boston Duo” that included out-of-home creatives and hometown-themed menu items. We were able to bring this campaign to life by finding synergies between our companies on the local level while incorporating messaging and offers that were authentic to both our brands.

What made the Tums, DiGiorno and Samuel Adams tie-ups good fits for DraftKings?

SHERMAN: We collaborate with various non-sports brands like Tums, DiGiorno and Samuel Adams over the course of the year, specifically around big tentpole moments such as the Super Bowl. It allows us to get added exposure beyond our core DraftKings audience. Through these relationships, we are able to work creatively together to deliver exciting offerings that are authentic to our brands while creating buzz with non-traditional marketing activations. 

Food and sports make for a great pairing, so it’s always fun to come up with ideas that seamlessly merge our brands to give customers an added form of entertainment during key sporting events. 

Timing-wise, all three came in the run-up to the Super Bowl, the biggest betting moment of the year. How do they help DraftKings be top of mind for consumers and cut through all the ad noise?

SHERMAN: The NFL season is our busiest time on the sports calendar for DraftKings, and the Super Bowl represents the biggest single sporting event for us all year. The Super Bowl draws a lot of attention from millions of viewers who tune in for the game as well as to see ads from all kinds of brands from food and beverage companies to beauty care products and everything else in between – it is the perfect stage to connect with a captive audience. 

For DraftKings, we see teaming up with like-minded brands for the big game as an opportunity to gain additional exposure while tapping into our platform with our free-to-play pools to deliver a different kind of experience that is not just a traditional ad buy, it builds another layer of fan engagement during the game.  

What did you learn from running a big game ad last year, and how has that impacted marketing plans and any future Super Bowl ad plans?

SHERMAN: We know having a consistent brand voice is an important part of our marketing efforts, and after diving into the performance from our recent season-long campaign and the success we saw from last year’s Super Bowl commercial, it was an easy decision to continue to build on that momentum for our 2023-2024 NFL Playoff campaign. 

We took a strategic approach, maximizing key moments leading up to the Super Bowl through a variety of local and digital tactics. We are always exploring new ways to engage with our customers, especially during marquee sporting events, and will continue to evaluate our marketing plans with performance-based KPIs.

As competition in the betting space heats up, how is DraftKings evolving its approach to marketing and advertising?

SHERMAN: As the sports betting industry continues to evolve, so does our approach to optimizing our products and marketing tactics, making sure our customers always come first. We have learned a lot over the past few years, but still seek to remain competitive with our customer-centric offers, while also taking a data-driven and analytical approach to strategically scale our marketing initiatives in the short and long term. 

We feel it’s important to not only listen to our customers’ needs through the insightful data we are able to capture with our research, but also stay nimble as the industry continues to grow, building upon our brand messaging and brand preference with sports fans.